October 25, 2016

Art Question: Why is Female Sound Bad to Hear?

“Why is female sound bad to hear?” that’s the question asked by Anne Carson in an essay on the gender of sound. It reminded me of the artist Tino Seghal choosing women to perform the role of security guard in the museum, surprising the visitor with singing in high pitch voices. As we know, high pitch equals low authority in our society. Carson notices how in Homer’s Odysseus disorderly female sound is associated with wild space. A man is supposed to control his own emotions and therefore their sound, whereas a “woman is that creature who puts the inside on the outside.” 

Carson refers also to an anecdote Ernest Hemingway wrote about in his memoirs A Moveable Feast, when he accidentally listened in to women’s voices from the room next door and was so repelled by it that he left. One of them was the voice of Gertrude Stein, the other probably her partner Alicia Toklas. Hemingway wrote: “Miss Stein’s voice came pleading and begging, saying, ‘Don’t pussy. Don’t, please don’t. Please don’t, pussy.' ... She got to look like a Roman emperor and that was fine if you liked your women to look like Roman emperors .... I could never make friends again truly, neither in my heart nor in my head.” Truth be told, Gertrude Stein wasn’t that nice about Hemingway either. “He looks like a modern,” she said, “and he smells of the museums.”

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